Tuesday, 6 June 2017

And Series 10 was going so well.

The really disappointing thing is that there are good ideas in here. A satire on ‘post-truth’ society via a 1984-style dystopia? Sure. The Doctor becoming the oppressors’ Big Brother-esque mouthpiece? I’m intrigued to see how that works out. Bringing in Missy? Could be fun. Even the idea of plonking an epic three-parter in the middle of the series is a promising experiment.

But, well, come on... 

The first two episodes of this ‘Monk trilogy’ have felt a little disjointed from each other, but Toby Whithouse's The Lie of the Land takes that to an extreme, with individual sequences having neither connection to those before and after them, nor valid reason to be there. All those ideas are brought up and disposed of one by one, leaving us asking just what the point of any of them was, and what this episode is meant to be about. 

It’s hard to decide which of them pissed me off more, so let’s start from the beginning. Ooh, we have Memory Police, we have the populace generally accepting the Monks, we have a few lone rebels being taken away. All good so far. Are we going to get to the heart of this society, of what life is like under the shadow of the Monk statues, of what leads people to fall for fascist lies, of why some collaborate and others question?

Well, no. We’re going to head off to sea to dither around a ‘rescuing the Doctor’ subplot.

So, his deception. For six months he spearheaded a fascist regime and encouraged people to report on their friends and families, just so he could test Bill’s loyalties? To set up this ‘Bill versus evil Doctor’ confrontation as the main spine of the episode, and heavily trailer those regeneration clips as if they’re the real thing, only to have it laughed off as a ruse fifteen minutes into the episode with no satisfactory explanation, is not only a massive dick move on the Doctor's part but an infuriatingly cheap narrative trick on Whithouse's. To make matters worse, it's never mentioned again, not even when the episode briefly becomes about Missy’s manipulative nature, which, we're told, in unquestioned contrast to the Doctor’s, is objectively a bad thing. 

This stupid distraction also throws away a very pointedly relevant speech about fascism. That “you had history...” speech could be such a powerful moment, this series’ equivalent of the anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion, but the episode couldn’t cock it up more in the way it’s used in entirely the wrong context. The Doctor makes a brilliant anti-fascist speech... to defend his own collaboration with a fascist regime. Which is then revealed to be a ruse, so he doesn’t mean it anyway. Any possible point that could be made there is lost in just how muddled it all is.

So he takes control of the boat he could have taken control of months ago, crashes it into a pier (why?) and goes to visit Missy. Again, it’s a nice idea to have Missy brought into the second half of the season as we build to the finale and develop that arc of the Doctor trying to turn her ‘good’ (bet he doesn’t), but it’s really very convenient that she happens to have the exact knowledge needed. And really very stupid that the Doctor hadn’t already asked her about the Monks after the end of Extremis. And really very clumsy that this information doesn’t turn out to be that useful after all, as the Doctor decides to just look at a map and go to the Monks’ conspicuously evil lair instead.

It’s a serious problem that, if both the sequences I’ve just discussed were cut out of the episode, and the Doctor simply showed up at Bill’s door five minutes in, the plot would work just as well. And that’s... let me check iPlayer... twenty minutes. Half the episode, which could have instead have been spent on developing this dystopian world to the point where it has something to say about fascism, or on giving the Monks some actual character.

Yeah, I wasn’t sure about the Monks after the previous two episodes, and now I am sure – they’re rubbish. They have no personality at all. Why do they want to invade Earth? What do they gain from it? How come they can now fire electricity from their hands, and why did no one point out that that’s a blatant rip from the Silence? 

One plus point (honest) – I was glad that the need for a human's consent, which felt forced in last week’s episode, was actually tied into their method of ruling over the world. However, it remains the case that there’s little connection between what they do in any of the three episodes. If they always use the same tactics, as per Missy’s experience, then what was the point of the simulation? Perhaps the fault lies with Moffat’s style of writing two- or three-parters, where each episode is a very distinct story and they just happen to be linked by cliffhangers – no one ever stopped to work out who the Monks are or why they fit into these particular stories. They’re not villains, they’re plot devices. Crap ones.

And then there’s the ending. The power of emotion saves the day, yet again. It’s one of the most egregious plot tropes of Moffat-era Who, and this, at the end of what should be an epic three-parter, is one of the worst instances of it. The episode doesn’t even use the emotion it’s previously tried to explore. If The Lie of the Land has anything resembling an emotional story for Bill, it’s about her guilt over having caused this apocalyptic chaos. So how does her memory of her mum tie into any of this?

Still, it's nearly over, at least that’s the worst bit of nonsense we’re going to get in this episode, right?

Oh. All of humanity forgot being invaded. Despite the masses of evidence which must surely exist. Again.

I mean, for an episode full of such dramatically promising concepts, there isn’t a single beat that The Lie of the Land doesn’t bungle. It’s the Doctor Who equivalent of a Bullseye contestant whose partner’s already done well so they only need to get ten more points to win the speedboat and yet – THUNK, THUNK, THUNK – bounces all three darts off the board in quick succession. It’s just... really shit.

Also, why was everyone wearing black jumpsuits?

  1. Oxygen
  2. Thin Ice
  3. Extremis
  4. The Pilot
  5. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  6. Knock Knock
  7. Smile
  8. The Lie of the Land


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